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by Paul Adam
Minotaur Books, January 2010
288 pages
ISBN: 0312383851

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is the second novel by Adam featuring the Cremona violin maker Giovanni Castiglioni and his detective friend, Antonio Guastafeste. For those of us who enjoy learning about all things musical, Adam takes us on an historical journey featuring Paganini, his famous violin, il Cannone, and a mysterious gold box which also belonged to the composer.

We are propelled on this journey because il Cannone, now kept in Genoa, Italy, is played once every two years by the winner of an international competition. The current winner is a young Russian, Yevgeny Ivanov, who brings the violin to Castiglioni for a minor repair before his concert. Yevgeny's career and life are rigorously managed by his mother and their story is an interesting subplot.

A day after the concert, a Parisian art dealer, Villeneuve, is found dead in his hotel. When detective Guastafeste discovers a scrap of sheet music torn from Yevgeny's scores in the dead man's wallet, he turns to Casteglioni to help him decipher its significance as a clue in solving the murder. However it is equally the story of the gold box and its missing contents that provides the captivating historical segments of this mystery. It is Casteglioni's musical knowledge that cracks the code for the combination lock which opens the box to reveal by its interior design that it once held a miniature violin.

The criminal investigation takes them through the halls of academia in Milan, through the shops of unscrupulous art dealers to the archival records of a famous jewellers in Paris only to find that the page describing what exactly had been in Paganini's box is missing. Villeneuve had got there first but when Guastafeste and Casteglioni go to his Parisian shop they find his partner murdered. While Guastafeste has to stay in Paris, Casteglioni flies to London to consult another expert about the contents of the gold box. What he discovers reveals the motivation for the present day murders.

Adams skillfully interweaves moments from Castiglioni's and Guastafeste's personal lives into this whodunit and historical mystery. If you love all things Italian and classical music cook up some pasta, open up a bottle of red wine, and prepare to enjoy this engaging mystery.

Reviewed by Ann Pearson, February 2010

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